SXSW 2024: Magpie – the final twist makes it GOOD

Photo by Laurie Coker

“Magpie” enters the cinematic landscape with a narrative as old as time, exploring the intricate web of a toxic marriage. While the film showcases moments of brilliance, its narrative execution ultimately leaves a few questions unanswered. Directed by Sam Yates and written by Tom Bateman, this slow-burn gothic noir premiered at SXSW, promising an exploration of betrayal and revenge within the confines of a deteriorating relationship.

At the heart of “Magpie” is the marriage of Annette (Daisy Ridley) and Ben (Shazad Latif), a couple whose dynamic is as toxic as it is familiar. Ridley delivers a captivating performance as Annette, a woman trapped in a suffocating marriage, while Latif shines as the self-absorbed Ben. Their on-screen chemistry crackles with resentment and bitterness, setting the stage for a compelling exploration of marital discord.

The arrival of glamorous actress Alicia (Matilda Lutz) adds a new layer of complexity to the narrative, injecting a sense of intrigue and mystery. As Ben becomes increasingly enamored with Alicia, Annette finds herself pushed to the brink, sparking a series of events that will forever alter the course of their lives.

Visually, “Magpie” is a feast for the eyes. Yates and cinematographer Laura Bellingham employ a range of stylistic techniques to evoke a sense of unease and dread. From refracted mirrors to eerie piano scores, the film creates a haunting and unsettling atmosphere. However, despite its aesthetic prowess, the film needs to improve its narrative execution.

Specific plot devices feel contrived and underdeveloped, leaving viewers craving a more fleshed-out exploration of the characters’ motivations. Annette’s character, in particular, needs more depth and nuance, leaving her backstory and inner thoughts shrouded in ambiguity. While Ridley delivers a strong performance, her character’s lack of development hampers the film’s emotional impact.

Additionally, the film’s treatment of toxic masculinity and misogyny feels superficial. It fails to delve into the root causes of Ben’s behavior, especially those related to past events. While the performances are commendable, they are hindered by the characters’ one-dimensionality, particularly Ben, who comes across as more caricature than a fully realized antagonist.

Ultimately, “Magpie” proves to be a mixed bag, with moments of brilliance overshadowed by glints of narrative shortcomings. While it offers glimpses of promise, particularly in its visual style and performances, it ultimately needs to catch up to its lofty ambitions. Yates’s debut feature, “Magpie,” shows potential and intensity but fails in some ways to deliver a wholly satisfying conclusion.

Leave a comment